Chile: Understanding the Colonization of the Mapuche People

Arson attacks, armed attacks, and the death of both Mapuches and Chilean farmers and policemen, committed by hooded men are some of the serious events that have characterized the latest events in Chile.

On October 12, the president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, declared a state of emergency in four provinces located in the so-called “southern macro zone” of Chile, as he indicated by “serious disturbance of public order.”

The announcement comes amid an escalation of violence in the “red zone” of the territory claimed by the ancestral Mapuche indigenous people, between the Biobío and La Araucanía regions, located about 600 kilometers south of the capital Santiago.

Arson attacks, armed attacks, and the death of both Mapuches and Chilean farmers and policemen, committed by hooded men are some of the serious events that have characterized the latest events.

Under a state of emergency, now the security management in the area will be in charge of the Armed Forces for an additional extendable 15 days. In this regard, the National Institute of Human Rights has declared that it is a failure of the State and of society, as a whole, that murders and other acts of violence are discussed and that the guilty cannot be investigated, tried or convicted, in a sign of questioning the decision of the government.

With this measure, in practice, there is fear of an escalation of the repression against the Mapuche people and their long-awaited claims for their ancestral land, their recognition as a people-nation, and their political autonomy under a plurinational state regime as required of the authorities.

The measure has generated a strong controversy in Chile, especially when the process of formulating a new constitution is in full swing by 155 members of a Constituent Convention democratically elected by the citizens. A new constitution that will seek a new institutional order that corrects social inequalities, ends the system of forced savings through private insurers called AFP, which ensures investment capital at very low cost for the large Chilean and foreign economic groups that control this industry, reduce the concentration of wealth and ensure for everyone access to decent health, free and quality education, housing, and a public system of decent old-age pensions.

Elisa Loncón, the president of the Constitutional Convention, of Mapuche origin, the most numerous indigenous peoples, recently said that “what the citizenship here needs are political solutions, to carry out economic processes that make it possible to overcome the poverty that affects the communities.”

“The serious acts of violence linked to drug trafficking, terrorism and organized crime committed by armed groups in the four provinces declared in a state of emergency are publicly known, which led the Mapuche leader Aucan Huilcamán to affirm that this state of exception “It will lead us to a dead-end because neither the military nor the police in any part of the world has established peace”.

What are the roots and keys to understanding the conflictive relationship between the indigenous people, their historical demand, and the State?

Intense conflict and violence are experienced almost daily in the area that the Mapuches, the original inhabitants of these lands, define as part of their territory or “Wallmapu” in their language.

It is the same region where the Spanish conquerors were forced to parley before the Mapuche resistance and where, in the middle of the 19th century, the Chilean State established its rule through arms, stripping the indigenous peoples of their lands, abandoning them to their fate, and establishing a state of ethnic, economic and cultural discrimination, even with their language, the “mapudungun”.

Over time, the land was passed into the hands of European settlers, especially transferred to southern Chile from 1850 on, to their descendants and, later, to forestry, dairy, and agricultural companies of great weight in the country’s economy.

Therefore, among the Mapuche demands, there is the recovery of land. The successive Chilean governments have done little with respect to the Mapuche demands, nor have they protected the indigenous archaeological, historical and cultural heritage. A common and continuity plan has been lacking, which becomes into mistrust based on broken promises over and over again.

The economic aspects are also an essential point of the prolonged conflict in Chile. The Chilean model rests on the exploitation of natural resources, and a good part of them are in Araucanía, which is the region where the largest population of Mapuches lives. “The Mapuches are a people who live in harmony with nature, which is why they ask to strike a balance between economic production and natural resources, because they are finite, exhaustible, and in this sense, if they are not regulated; future generations will face an environmental and food crisis “.

Despite the large number of natural resources that the region has, according to the latest National Socioeconomic Characterization Survey, La Araucanía has the highest poverty rate in the country, reaching 17.4%, directly affecting indigenous peoples and not the descendants of European settlers who maintain ownership of productive agricultural and forestry land.

With an estimated indigenous population of 12.7% (more than 2 million people according to the 2017 census figures), Chile, unlike Argentina, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and other Latin American countries, does not explicitly recognize the existence of indigenous peoples in its Constitution, thus becoming into an obvious “political exclusion”, as highlighted by the Mapuche lawyer and doctor in sociology, Salvador Millaleo.

Added to this is the lack of knowledge that there is among Chileans about the Mapuche culture since very little is educated about it in the country’s schools, in addition to prejudices, stereotypes, the ridicules that are made of their surnames, the pejorative description of Indians, savages, drunkards, etc., all this shows clear racism.

Other phenomena that have strained the justice of indigenous demands have been the presence of drug trafficking and gangs dedicated to the theft of wood from forestry companies.

Consequently, it is not known precisely which of the acts of violence are related to the Mapuche cause and which are carried out by organized crime, whose interest is to produce chaos and confusion. There is also talk of actions provoked by the state’s own intelligence apparatuses to distort the Mapuche cause, making it difficult to solve or at least, making it difficult to start a balanced dialogue between the representatives of the Mapuche people and the State.

According to various surveys, more than 70% of the Mapuches reject violence as a way to resolve the conflict, just as many think that the current constituent process being carried out in Chile, and where indigenous peoples actively participate, “is a new hope”.

Even with the differences between the Mapuche and Palestinian cases, we can establish some common points.

Firstly, both situations of dispossession have their origin in the arrival of settlers from other parts of the world who, supported by force or the granting of property titles by the State to lands appropriated from their legitimate owners, establish themselves and expand.

Second, the original inhabitants are deprived of political rights and they are tried to erase from the map not only physically, but there are serious attempts to acculturate the Palestinians, by erasing their customs, culture, and language, so that there will be no traces of their ancestral existence.

Third, indigenous people are discriminated against both socially and psychologically but also economically because they are left out of the support of mechanisms for local development, which are mostly reserved for the colonizers and their descendants.

Fourthly, the State turns a blind eye to the attacks by settlers against indigenous peoples, legitimizing apartheid, and fifthly, it intensifies the depletion of natural resources and/or their maintenance in the hands of the settlers. Appropriation of farming waters, expropriation of valleys to install hydroelectric plants, flooding them, and exterminating the native flora and fauna, among others, are part of the colonial expansion, to which is added in the case of the Palestinians, ethnic cleansing and establishment of more and more state-funded and supported colonist settlements.

As an effective reaction to colonization, the Palestinians have promoted the BDS (Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment), while the social movements, intellectuals, and Palestinians, and anti-Zionist Jewish NGOs raise the proclamations of decolonization, regime change. and a single State. Those same flags of struggle, with certain nuances, are those of the Mapuche movement: land recovery, political autonomy, and a plurinational State that recognizes native peoples as part of a nation-state.